Scholar J. Clinton McCann says this about Psalm 137: "One thing it teaches us...is the lesson that in extreme situations, grief and anger are both inevitable and inseparable. The worst possible response to monstrous evil is to feel nothing. What must be felt--by the victims and on behalf of the victims--are grief, rage, outrage. In the absence of these feelings, evil becomes an acceptable commonplace. In other words, to forget is to submit to evil, to wither and die; to remember is to resist, to be faithful, and to live again."
We are living in an extreme situation. A viral pandemic is an extreme situation. A racism pandemic is an extreme situation. Grief and anger are inevitable. As McCann writes, "to express grief and anger is to live."
The Psalms give us words to pray, to address God, to express the real and raw emotions of life. If you need words to express grief and anger, reach for Psalm 137--spoken or sung. We might recoil from its expression of vengeance, and yet also acknowledge that we have all known a desire for revenge within ourselves. May this psalm's honesty--may your honesty--lead you to life and to hope.
1 By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.
2 On the willows there we hung up our harps.
3 For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!
6 Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.
7 Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem’s fall, how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down! Down to its foundations!”
8 O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us!
9 Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!